Distilleries busy with exceptional plum harvest

Distilleries around the country are exceptionally busy these days as farmers are bringing in their plum crops which are unusually plentiful this year. It is a tradition in Central and Eastern Europe that farmers distil their own plum brandy or "slivovice". It can either be homemade or fruit growers can use the services of local distilleries which are now running at full capacity.

Farmers in South Bohemia are reporting the best harvest of plums in twenty years. Besides freezing and preserving, another traditional way of processing plums is making slivovice or plum brandy. I spoke earlier to Frantisek Dusbabek from a small distillery in Lzin in South Bohemia and asked him how exactly plums become slivovice.

"First we squash the fruit, remove the stones, and then we let the pulp ferment in special containers using yeast cultures. It usually takes one to two months. Then we proceed on to the distillation process itself, which is done twice. The end product has about 70 percent alcohol by volume."

Frantisek Dusbabek says that depending on the type of fruit and the amount there is people can take home the first brandy from their own fruit as early as Christmas. With the unusual quantity this year, he expects there will be enough work for his company until March.

"It is different every year. This year is exceptional for plums. We have over 100 tonnes of plums. Last year was really poor as far as plums were concerned but there were a lot of pears. This year there are not so many apples and pears. There are plentiful years and there are years with little fruit."

All distilleries, even small ones, need to have a licence from the Agriculture Ministry. That is in part because brandy produced for one's own consumption is subject to a different tax rate. The amount is limited to 30 litres per household and if plum growers stick to it, they can save precisely half the consumer tax that is imposed on spirits produced by big companies and sold on the market.